Surly Instigator 2.0 (review, sort of)

Yesterday I mentioned I may talk about some of my equipment choices for 24 hour racing, especially as some of it might not quite make sense but hopefully I may have a reasoned opinion on why I have picked these items.

The first one is a biggie and if you have looked at the title or featured image, you may just have worked out what it is.

Yeah, I will be using a “heavy” steel bike with heavy wheels and tyres and not a super light carbon 29er with light wheels and tyres. The main reason is in my travels I have gone down the light weight carbon bike route before.


I used to ride a pretty bling Pivot Les 29er featuring a lovely lightweigh Rock Shox Sid World Cup and mostly carbon or titanium parts. The Stans wheels weighed almost nothing and when I had them on my bike weighed about the same as a carbon road bike.

For many people my bike was a bling dream, for me it was a nightmare. I hated riding it. It felt dead. It was no fun and really I only took it out when I wanted to show off. It felt like a carbon road bike and I aint too keen on them either. It was just a colossal waste for me. I ended up using it as a commuter before we parted ways.

This is why I am not doing the carbon route, I would have a bike I probably don’t want to ride and it will cost me a fortune as well. Being small I never really enjoyed the 29er wheel aspect either, I prefer 26″ and it probably wont be long before the biek trade is telling us we all need small wheels again. I also had a tiny crash (I was standing still and fell over when I turned to look at a sign) at one point and that snapped an XTR lever and my carbon bar, I still think if it had been an XT or below brake and an aluminium bar I would not have had that issue. I have decided the carbon route is not for me.

I was then pondering about which steel frame to buy and was reminded by a friend that I had only recently bought a Surly Instigator 2.0, I enjoy the fact I bought a 2014 bike in Oct 2017 brand new. It was bought because Surly’s UK dist had them on clearance and I had pondered a few times on one. Sadly never buying one as I had a 1×1, my 1×1 is the bike I most regret selling ever, and they are pretty different bikes the 1×1 and the Instigator so I could have totally justified it to myself. My 1×1 used to have some crazy setups on it and it loved them all, I really liked my relaxed cruiser setup I had for a bit.

surly 1x1 bike

The Instigator looked a fun bike to me. The good news once I had it out of the box, swore at the missing seat clamp bolt, swore at setting the tyres up tubeless, swore when I broke a blade trimming the fork steerer, and finally swore some more at the pain my thumbs were in from the tubeless setup, it turned out it was a fun bike ride.

Talking about tyres, I like the whole 26+ idea, as I know a lot of people of my stature or below who like the idea of plus but 27.5+ is just too much wheel and tyre for them. So a lovely shout out to Jamis for carrying on 26+. I like tyres that just want to roll over everything and allow you to relax a little when out on the trail. This is part of the thinking for the Kielder Chiller. It will be my first 24hr race and the idea of letting the Surly Dirt Wizard tyres save me if I have a lapse in concentration seems like a nice payoff for the slight weight penalty. I am pretty sure I will have a lapse at some point and I would rather be jolted awake than hurt myself or even worse break bike parts.

Now I would love the bike trade to embrace 26+ but I guess they wont for one main reason. They can not sell everyone a new frame for it, you will be able to fit 26+ in most 650b frames so the media and powers that be are worried you might not spend more money than just on new tyres and wider wheel rims or wheels. That would be an absolute disaster. Ironically though we keep being told that 27.5″ is the magic size, well 26+ is pretty much that wonder size but with these tyres and lower pressures you will help avoid trail erosion (think golf buggy tyres), it could be a nice little win/win. I should just face it and give in now though and accept that I love a standard that nobody else does.

The other thing is I’ve been bikepacking on the Instigator.

surly instigator bikepacking

I’ve taken it to the pumptrack.


Been through snow.


Ridden in horrendous conditions.

surly instigator review mud

I have done everything from downhill to multi-day rides on it and you know what, I always go back for more. That must be what I need if I am riding a bike for 24 hours, a bike that makes me want to ride it. Forget talking about weight, components, the newest standard, this is a bike that you just want to get out and pedal on and surely that is the most important thing.

I have read that between 2am and 3am is super hard during a 24 hour race and I have decided that at 3am I will reward myself with a coffee with a spot of honey. This is to give me something mentally to look forward to and a small break. If I have a bike that is great for racing but I hate, will I get back on the saddle or will that effectively be the end of my race?

I can also hang it a bit loose on the downhill. I’ll be riding single speed so I will probably be freewheeling downhill and the slack nature of the Surly will allow me to hang it out a bit and recover without to much effort.

Going uphill though will the Dirt Wizards on Rabbit Holes not be a pain? I find the Dirt Wizards give me traction where other people loose out and on muddy climbs they will winch me up nicely, quite often faster than the fit guys who I am riding with. They also build a bit of inertia. Imagine a light wheel, not only does it accelerate fast but it decelerates fast, we obviously have a reversal for a heavier wheel and I am not planning on accelerating up climbs but a micro-rest may happen and to carry on without accelerating again may be exactly what I need. That is correct I am taking a BMX race idea and putting it to work in 24 hour mountain bike racing, it may work it may not but the WEMBO World Champs will still be 8 months away and this will give me time to fix issues if I am wrong.

The Instigator is also comfy to me. It is like an armchair. I know and use it and this will be important in the times when I am fatigued. Doing climbs on a bikepacking adventure tires you, especially after more than one day, but you knwo the Instigator will guide you down safely as you try and much a few calories or have a drink. I trust the Instigator and I never truly feel that with a carbon mountain bike. I could be wrong there but endurance racing is a big mental game so why allow some issue to creep in and upset your race?

Basically the Instigator makes me want to go ride. I am pretty sad that it is now a Legacy bike for Surly and I really hope the keep making 26+ tyres so I can keep my smiles.





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